British Columbia

B.C. filmmaker examines oppression of marginalized people in the Philippines

The aftermath of violence in the Philippines is showcased in B.C. filmmaker Aaron Goodman's Duterte's Hell. Goodman says stigma surrounding drug use can lead to the dehumanization of users in any country.

Aaron Goodman's films seek to end international stigma around drug use

Kwantlen Polytechnic University instructor Aaron Goodman spent the winter of 2016-2017 creating Duterte's Hell, a film showcasing the harsh treatment of marginalized people in the Philippines. (Kwantlen Polytechnic University / Flickr)

B.C. documentary filmmaker Aaron Goodman says his work covering addiction in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside led to his latest short film chronicling the oppression of drug users in the Philippines.

In early 2017, Goodman visited the Philippines capital of Manila, and spent his trip co-producing the documentary Duterte's Hell, a grim nine-minute film showcasing graphic images of bloodshed and grieving families. The title refers to Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte.

More than 7,000 people in country have been killed since Duterte declared a "war on drugs" in 2016. In an effort to tackle rising crime in the country, claimed to be linked to drug use, the president has supported a crackdown on drug addicts and dealers. Critics say law enforcement officials have been executing suspects without due process.

"We often hear about the extrajudicial killings in the Philippines in the news but we seldom see and hear from the grieving families of those who have died so it's hard for us to understand the impact of the violence," said Goodman.

"I saw that many of those who are being killed are children and teenagers who often have little or nothing to do with drugs. Most of the victims are urban poor."

On Sept. 12, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zei Ra'ad Al Hussein, expressed grave concern over the killings, saying Philippine officials are not following due process.

Al Hussein's condemnation came the same day as Philippine lawmakers voted to cut the country's human rights commission's annual budget, the organization investigating the killings, from 749 million Philippine pesos to 1000 pesos ($24 Cdn).

Amplifying voices

Goodman, an instructor at the Journalism and Communication studies department of Kwantlen Polytechnic University, says he's focused his career on amplifying the voices of marginalized people, which has led him from documenting the Downtown Eastside to Manila.

Most of his work has centred on "humanizing" long-term, vulnerable heroin users through examination and promotion of their personal stories to create what Goodman calls a counter-narrative of addiction.

Goodman's work on the Outcasts Project, a multi-media look at North America's first-ever clinical trial of prescribed heroin and three users who participated, developed his interest in government responses to drug users internationally.

Journalism instructor and filmmaker Aaron Goodman has worked for over a decade to showcase the struggle of marginalized people in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. (Kwantlen Polytechnic University / Flickr)

Through the Outcasts Project and Duterte's Hell, Goodman endeavours to demonstrate the effect marginalization has on the poorest of society by bringing human elements to the screen.

"I swear on my family, my son is not a pusher, my son had no gun," says a Philippine mother during the closing moments of Duterte's Hell. "Please, tell to the whole world. Please help me. He's not a dog, my son. He's not a dog or a pig to kill like them."

Goodman says the marginalization of drug users in the Philippines is an extreme example, but the same stigma surrounding drug users can be found in Canada.

Goodman says his next project will follow the story of one victim of an overdose in B.C. and how their family is grappling with the death of a loved one.

With files from On the Coast